Many religions and moral philosophies have advocated selflessness, such as the ethical doctrine of altruism by Auguste Comte (who coined the term altruism). Perhaps, as a result, some other philosophies have propagated selfishness, such as the ethical doctrine of Egoism and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.
Putting rigid morality aside, I dispute that the self-interestedness approved by pro-selfishness philosophers does not significantly conflict with the kindness supported by pro-selflessness philosophers. The two profound viewpoints seem to directly oppose each other, but that apparently stems from the use of divisively confusing terminology.
This article is a basic explanation for enthusiastic leaders who wish to hold on to their morality without staying overly selfless.
Firstly, let’s look at the use of the term ‘greed.’ Technically speaking, what most pro-selfishness philosophers call “greed,” I would just call self-interestedness. To most people, ‘selfishness or greed’ commonly refers to acting upon particularly miserly, uncompassionate, or narcissistic impulses. In contrast, ‘self-interestedness’ can solely refer to acting out of one’s own interests, including secondary interests. Many people, including myself, claim that all people are naturally self-interested because, by definition, a person wants and values what he or she wants and values. Those wants and values also extend into goals, and the person makes their choices in an attempt to most fulfill those wishes, values, and goals. While everyone is self-interested, the description ‘selfish’ is usually reserved only for people whose concerns are more greedy, uncompassionate, or narcissistic than other people’s interests.
Now let’s look at the use of the term selfless. Technically, what most pro-selflessness philosophers call “selflessness,” I would just call courtesy or compassion. Using the term ‘selflessness’ seems to absurdly imply that a purportedly “selfless” person does not have any wants, values, or goals or at least that the person does not try to act out of his or her desires, values or goals at all. But that is apparently not what most pro-selflessness philosophers mean. When they call a personality “selfless,” they seemingly just mean that the person has tender desires, values, and goals, in that the person likes to help other people and other people’s happiness makes the person comfortable. In contrast to the misnomer ‘selfless,’ referring to such people as kind and compassionate more accurately describes that the people each have kind and compassionate interests which they each act out as opposed to not having affairs or not acting out of their concerns.
Conclusively, “selfishness” and “selflessness” can really be harmonious because the former can mean ‘self-interestedness’ and the latter can mean ‘kindness.’ And self-interestedness is harmonious with kindness. In fact, I believe it is in most people’s self-interest to help others, not only because others may yield the favor, but also because we sincerely love each other. We understand and sympathize with each other. We feel good when we see others feeling good. We feel bad when we see others feeling bad. We feel pleasure and fulfillment by helping other people and making other people feel comfortable.